Coup and monarchy

1 01 2015

America’s NBC News chose the coup and its aftermath as one of the “stories, newsmakers, videos and images that defined 2014.” The story at NBC has several video reports attached to it. We summarize the story and add our own observations.

The story begins:

Seven months after seizing power, Thailand’s military rulers appear to be in no hurry to hand over political control. There is talk that elections won’t take place before 2016…. As they settle in for the long haul, Thailand’s gaffe-prone generals have been focused on their mission to “return happiness to the people.”

The generals, and especially The Dictator, seem happy, and so does perennial political meddler General Prem Tinsulanonda, who has cheered the coup from his palace position as head of the Privy Council. Even if the economy is in anti-democrat/coup-induced decline, the royalist Sino-Thai tycoons seem happy enough that the social order has been righted and steadied.

PrinceThe story continues to the events of the past six weeks or so that have demonstrated something else – that Prem and his lot have managed to make Thailand’s succession a “problem” in the sense that what should have been a simple death of a king and his son taking over has become a major political event. The story notes that the “marital (and extra-marital) adventures of the Crown Prince might well have been dismissed as nothing new if not for one thing: timing. Maneuvering for Thailand’s royal succession has been one of the key factors driving a decade of political conflict in the southeast Asian nation — and now it appears that succession may be imminent.”

Normal constitutional monarchies do not have to deal with such meddling and stupidity because normal constitutional monarchies generally operate within defined legal boundaries. Not in Thailand, so the story observes:

… as the year draws to a close, it is palace intrigue and not Thailand’s increasingly eccentric generals who are the talk of Bangkok — albeit in hushed or oblique tones because of draconian laws that limit open discussion of the monarchy…. Among a number of senior police officers arrested in late November for alleged corruption and defaming the monarchy were the uncle and three brothers of Princess Srirasmi…. Srirasmi — who was in line to be Queen of Thailand — was stripped of her royal title and promptly divorced by her husband, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The prince, with the son he took from the union with Srirasmi

The prince, with the son he took from the union with Srirasmi

Noting the successionist line, the report says that the prince’s mistresses have been one source of his unpopularity. The report goes on to talk of Sirindhorn as “popular” and alludes to her sexuality as well: “The prince’s younger sister — Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn — has emerged a far more popular figure among Palace elites, the army and in the country at large. Most Thais would prefer to see her take over from her father.” The report adds that:

That leaves the palace in a pickle — though none of this can be openly discussed in Thailand due to the kingdom’s draconian “lese majeste” law, which bans defamation, insults and threats to the monarchy, with penalties of up to 15 years in jail.

Meanwhile, for the prince, it seems that nothing much has changed.

He’s sent out pictures of himself with Prince Dipangkorn, the son he produced with Srirasmi, and reportedly took off to Germany following the split with her. Life seems to have gotten back to normal, despite another wife tossed out and a couple of dozen of her relatives and hangers-on jailed.

What the story doesn’t say is that there appears to have been a very large criminal network operating around the prince and, in the way of the corrupt Thai police and military, it was probably delivering payments right to the top. Of course, the current palace has managed to avoid allegations of corruption, deftly fending them off or allocating them to “evil” politicians or other sundry nasties, but never taking responsibility. Again, the lese majeste law has helped a lot, preventing any discussion of, for example, palace land grabs.Nothing happened

Sounding a bit like PPT, the story says: “Speculation is rife that Vajiralongkorn’s move to strip his now ex-wife (and her family) of their royal titles was an attempt to clean up shop — and perhaps part of a wider deal with the military to clear the path to the crown.”

Getting back to the coup, the story says:

One widely-assumed and unspoken reason behind the coup is believed to be the military’s desire to oversee a royal succession, and Vajiralongkorn’s rapprochement could be just what the army needs.

We think this is probably the deal to watch. As the NBC story says, “If a deal is done on their watch for the Crown Prince to take the thrown — on their terms — then the generals might feel vindicated.”

That’s true, but it also needs to be recalled that the generals are doing more than “managing” succession. They are re-establishing a political system that protects and nurtures the corrupt military-palace alliance.





The military-monarchy state is corrupt

21 12 2014

Yesterday we posted on the statements on corruption by the master of double standards, General Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council. In Thailand, there is always a double standard on corruption based on political alignment. Vast corruption is quite okay if the corrupt person is a royalist and/or a member of the system’s praetorian guard. Those attacked as corrupt are the ones who have fallen foul of a powerful royal or royalist boss or have somehow come to be seen as dangerous for the existing system of power.

Think of the vast corruption of General Sarit Thanarat, which had the implicit approval of the young, son-like figure of king and the old princes who were working for the political and economic rehabilitation of the monarchy. When Sarit died, his estate was estimated at about $140 million, a massive fortune at the time. As researcher Thak Chaloemtiarana points out in his famous book on Sarit, this wealth came from several sources:

Sarit's wealth

Clicking on the snips included here produces a larger version.

Nothing much changed for his successors. Generals Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapas Charusathianrana were briefly investigated after their fall in 1976 and were found to have been massively corrupt. One Bangkok Post report dated 15 October 1974 is reproduced below, and is a partial accounting of their wealth:

TPN Wealth

It is well-known that the king got on famously with Thanom and less well with Prapas. Even so, the palace supported these corrupt bastards almost to the bitter end because the state and the economic, political and social power that underpinned it was crucial for the monarchy during the Cold War period. It is no secret that the generals and palace grew wealthy together in this period.

One of the interesting aspects of the wealth of these military despots and many of their underlings, including some of those who replaced them, was their close links with Sino-Thai businesses, as shown in an incomplete accounting in the Bangkok Post from 1 November 1973.

DirectorshipsPPT is not just reproducing this data to show that the military was and is corrupt. In fact, following an email from a reader, we are reminded to indicate that the generals are both guardians and beneficiaries of a political and economic system that was corrupt in its genesis in the absolute monarchy’s conversion of personalized state wealth into capitalist enterprise, and which remains corrupt to the core.

As well as our reader reminding us of this basic point, we are motivated by a report at Prachatai stating that “12 civil society organisations” (CSOs) in the Northeast have condemned the junta’s suppression of freedom of expression, stating that national reform is only a pretence to enable the junta to maintain power for investors and the elite.” They deride the “reform” process as designed to “increase the power of the capitalists and the elite.”

As usual, the dependent Bangkok middle class is complicit in this fake reform, along with palace power brokers like Prem.

The CSOs call on the puppet “National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to stop passing bills as they are not the people’s representatives.” They demanded that “the junta to lift the interim charter and martial law, then organise local and national elections within three months and, in the meantime, impose the 1997 Constitution, which was dubbed the People’s Constitution’.”

As we are sure our reader would urge, perhaps there should be a move for a real people’s constitution.

Several of the group making this statement have previously denounced the military junta. The result was that some “were forced to report to the military at local military bases on 7 November. This included one activist who was captured by fully armed soldiers. Some were also forced to post statements on Facebook that they were treated well under detention.”

In the current statement “the group comprehensively denounced the legitimacy of the coup d’état and junta’s national reform agenda.” The group declared:

National reform and the process of constitution drafting under the imposition of martial law, which silences people from expressing ideas different from those of the junta, are unacceptable to the people; we believe that genuine reform must open space for people’s freedom to express opinions in a democratic environment….

Undoing the corruption that is at the core of the current regime – where the military junta is just the latest example – cannot be delivered by those who have suckled at its disreputable breast and now wallow in its trough of corrupt wealth and power.





The Dictator’s lies

19 10 2014

Some readers may recall that General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who we properly identify as The Dictator ignore the recent changes to his name’s spelling, which probably has to do with the advice of astrologers, once complained that he wasn’t running coups for the pittance he received in salary and daily allowances.

As our readers know, the salary and allowances are chump change for the military brass. They make millions from corrupt activities.

This time, when The Dictator whines about how “tough” things are for the corrupt bastards who run Thailand – administering the country seems to distract their attention from the big money in their businesses and scams – he is finding no happiness while “returning happiness to the Thai people…”.Prayuth gunning for democracy

At BloombergBusinessweek it is reported that Prayuth speaking to Thai officials at a free dinner in Milan, after flying first class and staying in a plush hotel, whined: “I have no happiness…”. Jeez, how sad is that! But The Dictator is so detached from reality that he blubbers: “But I have to stay for the return of happiness of the Thai people. So I have to suffer.”

His other claims are equally ludicrous: “Prayuth has said he had no choice other than to topple Thailand’s democratically elected government in a May 22 coup to end political protests and heal divisions that he said risked tearing the country apart.” No choice? Leaders always have choices and when they say there are none, they are either stupid or lying. Maybe he could have supported an election, provided security and brought pressure on the anti-democrats to participate in an election. After all, his lot were paying them and protecting them, so he clearly had influence. Need we go on? He’s lying.

Prayuth said “he never wanted to be prime minister and that he thinks of resigning every day.” He added: “I don’t want to stay longer than I expect for even one day,” complaining “that his wife often questions his decisions as premier,” claiming, “Every day I have to fight…”. Imagine being this dope’s wife: “When I get home, I have an argument with my wife.”

How sad. Lying again? Yes. He loves the power and feels he’ll be well rewarded for supporting the royalist ruling class. Why not? Every other general who has run the country since Sarit Thanarat has ended up wealthy.

His biggest lie is this: “What we have done is to prevent a military coup in the future…”. What? He means 23 May or the day after? If we took the longer term view, and Prayuth is babbling about his coup being the last, then we say he’s a dunce. Politicizing the military, accepting its massive corruption, resisting professionalization, taking commissions, promoting impunity and sucking up to the palace’s political meddlers is exactly what any reasonable person would not do. In other words, he’s lying.

His biggest claim one that he repeats regularly, that “he staged the nation’s 12th coup since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932 in order to promote democracy.” We are willing to cut him some slack here because we at PPT understand that Prayuth has no mental capacity for understanding such a complicated term. His life experience prepares him for hierarchy and dictatorship, not something as complicated as democracy.

Prayuth was truthful about one thing. He said the country can have another election but that “there must first be no disagreement in society” for that to happen. Refer to the previous paragraph in order to understand this.





A Kingdom in Crisis reviewed I

5 10 2014

Readers will probably be eager to digest the first review (that PPT has seen) of A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. The review of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s book is by David Eimer at the South China Morning Post. A book cannot be understood by its cover or by its reviews, and had PPT has yet to receive a copy, we will do no more than point out some of the interesting bits of the review.

Kingdom in crisisThe first point to make is that this book will probably sell well and be widely read. Marshall has produced some explosive and well-researched material in recent years at Zen Journalist, and he has worked hard to promote it through his extensive use of social media. The publishers at Zed Books are also likely to be strongly promoting it.

The review begins by noting that Thailand’s recent politics has been chaotic and “has veered from one political crisis to another,” and the country is now in the hands of “a junta with the Orwellian-sounding name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).” Eimer asks: “How did a country once regarded as a model of stability and economic growth for the rest of Southeast Asia come to this?” Obviously, a book that tries to make sense of the political roller-coaster come to a political dead-end is welcome.

Eimer states that this “new book pins the blame partly on the one man in Thailand no one is supposed to associate with politics, or even talk about in public: King Bhumibol Adulyadej.” He explains that, “[f]or Marshall, though, Bhumibol is little more than a stooge of the military and business elite.” Marshall’s book is said to reveal” how pliant and essentially powerless Bhumibol has been throughout his reign,” and reliant on the military.

That statement alone would have it banned in Thailand, although it will already be banned under the royalist military dictatorship that considers Marshall toxic for monarchist Thailand.

Marshall is said to argue that “the king has been deliberately elevated to his exalted position so that the traditional ruling classes can maintain their hold on power while denying true democracy to their fellow Thais.”

Most controversially – “incendiary” is another word used by the reviewer – “Marshall believes the political turmoil of recent years is intimately connected to the question of who will succeed the 86-year-old ailing sovereign, who has spent much of the past five years in hospital. Bhumibol’s official heir is Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, more noted in Thailand and elsewhere for his playboy image than his regal status.” Marshall reckons they want the dumpy Princess Sirindhorn to succeed to the throne.

Eimer mentions the lese majeste law, but his claim that “[n]o one knows the power of the lese majeste laws more than Marshall” is overdone and surely one that Marshall would reject given his support for the anti-lese majeste cause and the plight of those imprisoned under the law and the death in custody of Ampol Tangnopakul.

The May 2014 coup has left “Thailand’s future is deeply uncertain…”. That may seem like an odd characterization given that the military is intent on creating certainty and managing succession. Yet the intervention has not altered the fault lines or the essential conflicts that rumble deeply and underpin all that the military does. According to the review, Marshall thinks nothing much will change “until the king passes away” today or perhaps in a decade.

Eimer criticizes Marshall’s lack of attention to “the growing grass-roots opposition to the establishment – Thaksin’s most lasting legacy may be politicising a formerly placid population in just a decade” but says this “is still a timely analysis of Thailand’s dysfunctional system of government.” He says it is also a “brave book,” for  throwing “a harsh light on the political role played by the royal family in a country where it has long been allowed immunity from criticism, and that is a unique achievement.”

PPT can’t wait to read it.





No populism here II

4 10 2014

Populism under Thaksin Shinawatra, at least when he was first elected in 2001, was very popular. As the Asian financial crisis lingered and as the Democrat Party-led government fumbled recovery and did the bidding of the IMF, the struggling rich saw Thaksin as a political savior. His reflationary “populism” boosted consumption. Of course, as he became more popular, many of the Sino-Thai tycoons went back to their “natural” habitat, tying themselves to the military’s boots and the boostering for the palace.

When PAD and then the anti-democrats associated with the Democrat Party were on the streets opposing “populism,” many of the big Sino-Thai capitalist class threw their money behind them. They cheered the two military coups in 2006 and 2014.

It can be no surprise, then, to read in the Bangkok Post that the “nation’s business tycoons are being urged to help play a crucial role in stimulating the country’s economy in order to restore foreign confidence in Thailand.” Some of the business whales attending a friendly meeting with the General masquerading as Commerce Minister to celebrate the military dictatorship included:

Business leaders including Dhanin Chearavanont, chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, chairman of Thai Beverage, and Tos Chirathivat, chief executive of Central Group, and Vathit Chokwatana, director of Saha Group. These are the most powerful capitalists in the country.

The General, not to be confused with The Dictator, said “the government had called on the tycoons’ cooperation in the government’s reform attempt as well as to boost the quality and add value to Thai products.” It was reported that they also “discussed strategies to restore the confidence of foreigners in Thailand and the Thai economy and how to boost the country’s trade and investment.”

Not coincidentally, the military dictatorship undertook some payback: “The government [it means the junta] also pledged to accelerate amending more than 20 existing laws and regulations that are deemed obstacles to trade and business.”

Sounding like a member of the Chinese Politburo, the General chortled about the great success of getting his business allies to a meeting: “The meeting also marks a new dimension, as the business tycoons agreed to join the meeting and offer their valuable opinions.” He triumphantly declared that the “private sector is also patriotic. The business leaders agree with the government’s efforts and are ready to team up with the government sector to improve the country and the economy…”.

The General claimed that the big capitalists “agreed with the government’s new economic stimulus packages while suggesting the government let market forces work in handling farm prices.”

Naturally, the commercial capitalists at Saha and Central will be pleased with the junta’s economic stimulus.

Tos Chirathivat was happy. He said the “joint meeting between the Commerce Ministry and business leaders was a good start to underlining cooperation between the government and the private sector.”

Giant capitalist and huge landowner Charoen “agreed, saying closer cooperation and connectivity between the private sector and state bodies would streamline the private sector in running their business, eventually helping to raise the quality of life of low-income earners.” He probably means his drivers, gardeners, maids and other servants.

We said the military junta was proposing populism for the middle class. It seems that the coup is for the rich too.





Refusing bail

27 09 2014

Readers will recall that in mid-August, two young people associated with the play The Wolf Bride / ละคร เจ้าสาวหมาป่า were arrested and accused of lese majeste.

More than forty days later, according to Prachatai, one of these activists, Patiwat Saraiyaem has been refused bail for a fifth time.

The police claim they have not finished viewing the video of the performance of the play, which is considered “evidence.” We consider this just the usual rejection of basic human rights seen in almost every lese majeste case.

Those associated with monarchy and palace should be ashamed of their role in this gross violation of rights and for allowing acts that amount to torture to be inflicted in its name and without taking a stand to correct the violations. Of course, they aren’t ashamed, for this treatment is standard and an element of the repressive demonstration effect associated with lese majeste.





Prem reincarnated?

10 09 2014

Bangkok Pundit has a recent post suggesting that the grand old man of political maneuvering for the palace-military alliance may be sulking as he feels he’s being pushed aside. General Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, has had a major say in politics and especially on military promotions for five decades.

PremWe are not sure if the old man is sulking or is aged, sick and weak, a bit like his junior, the king. He’s 94 and the last time we saw him, he was frail and not quite making sense. Senility? Illness? Both? Whatever it is, he’s being replaced by a generation of military men who are 30 years younger and “battle-hardened” from their murderous attacks on red shirts.

These are the generals who will take over the management of the royalist elite’s bigger decisions: General Prawit Wongsuwan, General Anupong Paojinda and General Prayuth Chan-ocha. These mean are more or less from the same generation and have pretty good relations. They are determined royalists with long-term palace relationships.

Some might think that the transition represents a major change. We are not so sure. We think the rejigging has been underway for some time and will probably see them reporting to their old boss General Surayud Chulanont in the Privy Council. The Privy Council is full of very old men and we don’t foresee any major changes there unless Prem dies before the king.

What is clear is that the military dictatorship is Prem-oriented and is unlikely to need to clash with him. The links to Prem and his style in government have been clear for some time since the coup. Prayuth as Prem

As if to emphasize this, Prayuth has just paraded before the cameras dressed as Prem, as seen in the two pictures appended to this post. Prayuth has garbed himself in the shirt that Prem made famous when prime minister in the 1980s.

We think the omens are about Premocracy. Thai-style shirts inevitably mean Thai-style democracy.








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